Uncovering The Bespoken Places of Los Angeles
On Thursdays, Guerrilla Tacos is usually parked on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake, 10 blocks west of another of L.A.’s most exciting restaurants, Night + Market Song. Inside, pleasantly idiosyncratic décor—a poster of Cindy Crawford in denim cutoffs is framed by a string of chili-pepper lights—belies the complex northern Thai food made here by chef Kris Yenbamroong, who was named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine in 2016.
Yenbamroong started Night + Market Song as a pop-up in his parents’ more standard Thai restaurant in West Hollywood, eventually took over the place, then opened this second location. At first, he adhered to his northern Thai concept, preparing larb, grilled pork collar, and warm blood soup with spices he personally transported from Chiang Mai in a suitcase. Then he decided that “it’s okay to not be the Indiana Jones of dining” and added a chicken sandwich to the menu. “If it comes down to one thing,” Yenbamroong said when asked to define today’s restaurant scene in L.A., “I think it’s a sense of freedom.”
Case in point: Kwang Uh, a Noma alum from Seoul who is pushing the possibilities of fermentation in a 19-seat space next to a 7-Eleven in an East Hollywood strip mall. Though his café, Baroo, was named one of America’s best new restaurants last year by Bon Appétit, no plaque indicates the distinction. There isn’t even a sign on the storefront bearing the restaurant’s name. There are, however, scores of plastic storage bins and jars in which cabbage, berries, roots, pineapple, and melon rinds sit fermenting, waiting to be arranged alongside elaborately rendered versions of kimchi fried rice and bibimbap. But “it’s not Korean food,” Uh insisted one afternoon over elderflower kombucha. “It just happened.”
Crisscrossing the city in pursuit of good food can feel like traveling the unofficial Jonathan Gold Trail. So one morning, I accompanied the man himself on his second visit to Destroyer, a restaurant in Culver City.
Named after a comet, the place turned out to be what I now recognize as pure L.A.: though the chef, Jordan Kahn, has worked at the French Laundry, Per Se, and Alinea, he chose to open a neighborhood café on an unremarkable block. Its design is minimalist and nonchalant, with only a handful of tables, but the food is wildly intricate and determined. Gold, unmistakable in a pink button down and suspenders, was spotted right away. Our order thus arrived swiftly: beef tartare with smoked-egg cream and pickled mushrooms, hidden under an ornate layer of sliced radishes and a salad of caramelized eggplant, spelt, kale, green peanuts, and almond ricotta. “I’ve lived here almost all my life, and so much of it is acquiring a mental map of the city,” Gold told me. “In a way, I sort of do it through food. I don’t have every exit on every freeway, but it’s close. There’s mind-blowing stuff if you will drive those extra four exits.”